“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” –e.e. Cummings
Each week we share a piece of us on our photographic journey. We have titled this series, “Courage to Grow”. We hope that our own soul searching will inspire similar introspection in our readers and that together we can make our best art and live our best lives
Today’s “Courage to Grow” post is a little bit different. Rather than a lesson learned on the journey, I am going to take you into my process when it comes to preparing an article with the hopes of giving everyone a leg up when it comes to finding a topic that is meaningful to you and following it through to a finished and complete piece, ready for submission. I will be focusing today on finding a topic that is important to you and will resonate and be interesting to others.
As many of you know, we will be opening submissions for Volume II of “The Long Way Home” on Monday the 14th. You can read our detailed submissions guide here. For this issue we are looking for the common thread or “Point of Reflection” of how culture, heritage or tradition have inspired our art.
While I will not be having a full article in this issue (although, wouldn’t that be great. Publishing a magazine just so you can showcase yourself in a big way every issue), I did want to test out the theme before presenting it to all of you. It is this process that I would like to take you through today. My process is messy and will probably be completely unhelpful to a lot of people, but this is how I do things and maybe it will work for you. Just know, that the process can be painful and it can feel like you're getting fish hooked by sharp little fingernails the whole time, but it all gets figured out in the end.
I started by mind mapping the Point of Reflection. If you are unfamiliar with mind mapping, I suggest you Google it. It is a very powerful tool when it comes to thinking through ideas. Another reason to Google mind maps is you will see some much lovelier ones than mine.
When I centered my thoughts and mind map on culture, tradition and heritage, I went off on seven initial directions:
Adopted Heritage and Culture
With every new direction I thought of I would send another line off from the center. After settling on these initial directions, I looked at each one individually and thought deeply about things. Not necessarily on how they relate to my photography, as that step comes later for me, but just my honest discoveries and thoughts on that topic. To take a somewhat banal branch, let me break down Holidays.
I have written “Big, Gift Giving Important” as my initial smaller branches…but then quickly connected those two things to a more fundamental truth about myself and added two more branches, “wanting big things and expecting them” and “challenged when I am not easily successful in a big way”. So on the somewhat boring topic of holidays, I was already deep into my core and finding patterns that relate in some way to tradition.
I did this with each of my branches and came up with some really interesting findings. As I explored each more, I started letting my mind wander to how these different things affect and inspire my art. I know that my faith keeps a level of optimism in my heart, even in the darkest of circumstances and that is always part of what I see through when creating my art. I also know that because of the darkness and horrors in my personal heritage, or past, even the happiest things are touched with a hint of sadness. The struggle of finding balance between those two ideas is always at work within myself, makes up a significant part of who I am and in turn is the lens through which I construct my art. Already, in a few short minutes I could see significant connections between heritage, culture and tradition and my art.
For the next step in the process I looked for common threads amongst much of this and what arose out of this particular search was conflict (mostly internal), love and selfishness.
Remember the point of this search is to be honest. At no point in this initial process should you edit your thoughts or your findings. Edit your final product. Edit it like there’s not tomorrow, but let everything before that flow freely.
I am now ready to come up with some topics. Here are a few I came up with:
“Battling My Place”: Focusing on my personal heritage and place in my family of being the youngest. I struggle to trust my heart and voice as I often cave to the opinions of those I look up to. Learning to let go and trust.
My initial thoughts on this one. Probably not worth going further. It borders on cliché and echoes what everyone says all the time about not trusting your own voice.
“My Adopted People”: Living in Italy and feeling a kinship with deep rooted traditions. Feeling a closer connection to death and ancestry changed my eye. My soul is more volatile and I feel that energy entering into my work and I want it to enter more.
Better. Has potential. Will be a winding road that will require lots of time, thought and editing, but could be good. What photos to pair with it? From Naples, or would that be too on the nose…probably too on the nose and look to create a collection focusing more subtly on these inspirations. Should be interesting to others and adopting culture is something that is relatable.
“Strength in Ancestry”: Being of Pioneer Heritage I love hearing of the strength embodied by these people. I often do not feel strong at all, but I know that I want my daughter to feel strong. Their strength gives me inspiration and I try and focus on finding that strength in my daughter so she can see it too.
Could work as well. Just need to make sure it doesn’t get cheezy. Still, we all want our children to be strong, so I think it could be good.
After this I just pick one and write. Sometimes things will work and sometimes they won’t, but if you start from an honest and thoughtful place you will find a great deal to write about. The process is not done in a day and requires a great deal of thought in the beginning, work in the middle and editing in the end, but if you take your time, it will come together.
Amanda Voelker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer, focusing on capturing the fleeting moments of childhood. She is currently located in the Seattle, Washington area. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday and is constantly amazed by all the wonder in her life. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of herself. Amanda is also the co-Editor in Chief of "The Long Way Home" magazine and co-founder of 30 Minutes in the Life. Aside from photography and family, Amanda is passionate about the ocean, seeing the world, diet coke, reading, and chocolate. You can find more of her work on her website and facebook